Alongside family members of Fort Hood shooting victims, three Texas lawmakers Monday announced federal legislation that would alleviate financial and physical burdens suffered in the nearly four years since the worst attack on a military base in U.S. history.
At a Killeen Civic and Conference Center news conference, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Reps. Roger Williams, R-Austin, and John Carter, R-Round Rock, expressed confidence the “Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act” would garner enough bipartisan support to pass both houses of Congress.
“There is nothing remotely political about this issue,” Cornyn said. “The wheels of justice have turned slowly, too slowly for most of us. ... It’s important we direct that attention to the people who deserve it, and that is the victims and their families.”
The bill would reclassify the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting that killed 13 and wounded more than 30 as an act of terrorism rather than workplace violence.
As a result, victims and families would receive combat-related compensation and injury rehabilitation pay, $400,000 of life insurance coverage from the Department of Veterans Affairs, tax breaks after death in a combat zone, special pay for exposure to hostile fire or imminent danger and free meals at military treatment facilities. The bill also would provide retroactive benefits, dating back to the attack.
Cornyn said the bill acknowledges the attack could have been prevented, and will award Purple Hearts to all military victims, and the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom — the Purple Heart’s equivalent — to all civilian casualties.
Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death last week by a Fort Hood jury for the 2009 attack and was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., on Friday. Hasan’s conviction and punishment included forfeiture of all pay and allowances and dismissal from the Army.
Williams said Hasan planned his attack on the U.S. military base, and admitted extremist ideology in the mass shooting’s aftermath.
“Nobody in America thinks this is workplace violence,” Williams said. “They know, they knew it was a terrorist attack.”
Carter said he hoped the legislation will pass this year.
“Nothing can bring my brother back,” said Leila Hunt Willingham, whose brother, Spc. J.D. Hunt, died in the shooting. “But we must insist on taking care of the people who were affected. ... Let us react with all that is available, to support the dozens of lives changed that day.”
Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin thanked the senator and congressmen for waiting until after Hasan’s sentencing to introduce the legislation.
“They received a lot of pressure from a lot of people, and I think it’s marvelous that they exercised the right judgment at the right time.”